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Huckleberry Finn Essay
Society tends to make a substantial impact on certain individuals; others hear the society’s influences and decide what they personally believe despite contrasting opinions. As William Ellery Channing, a 19th century author, once said, "No power in society, no hardship in your condition can depress you, keep you down, in knowledge, power, virtue, influence, but by your own consent." In Huckleberry Finn, written by Mark Twain, the protagonist, Huck Finn, struggles with the difference between what is right and wrong. Throughout the novel, he faces situations with Jim, the Duke, the Dauphin, and the Wilks family in which he has to put his own opinions into action. In a constant effort to assess his true beliefs without the pressures of humanity, Huck Finn develops into an independent being who can decide, on his own, what he accepts whether it involves supporting slavery, turning Jim in, or confessing the truth.
Most of the novel centers around the relationship between Huck and Jim, Miss Watson’s runaway slave. During their first encounter, Huck comments, “I was ever so glad to see Jim. I warn’t lonesome, now” (46). In the beginning of their companionship on the island, Huck sees Jim as a friend, someone that will keep him company. However, later in the story, Huck begins to question whether or not it is right to help Jim. Afterall, Jim does belong to Miss Watson. But in the same respect, besides the fact that Jim is a slave, Huck is also running away since legally, Huck belongs to Pap. So, Huck continues to venture with Jim in hopes that he is doing the right thing. When stopped by men who are searching for runaways, Huck responds that his family, all of them sick with smallpox, is onboard the raft. Of course, the men decide not to check the boat in fear of the infection and even give Huck money for the family. Afterwards, Huck “got aboard the raft, feeling bad and low, because I knowed very well I had done wrong” (101). However, he quickly reevaluates his actions and “says to myself, hold on, - s’pose you’d a done right and give Jim up; would you felt better than what you do now? No, says I, I’d feel bad – I’d feel just the same way I do now” (101).
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At this point, Huck has conscious incompetence: he knows that he is unaware of what the moral thing to do is based upon society’s standards. He is currently doing what is most convenient. It is not until Jim opens up to him that Huck understands that Jim is a real person too. Huck ponders about Jim, remarking, “I do believe he cared just as much for his people as white folks does for their’n. It don’t seem natural, but I reckon it’s so” (170). For the first time, Huck views Jim as an individual, one who has feelings and emotions, not just a black runaway slave. All of his life, Huck is told that slaves do not matter; they are owned and their lives revolve around what they are told to do, not what they want to do or how they feel. In spite of this, he has reached a new level of awareness and continues to search for his personal standards of ethicality.
Slavery is not the only issue that Huck deals with throughout the novel. When two new characters, the Duke and the Dauphin, appear in the story, he immediately is aware that they are frauds. Nevertheless, he resolves that if he tells anyone, he and Jim could easily get in trouble also. So instead, he watches quietly as the Duke and the Dauphin deceive others. He is confused as to what he should do, and even mentions that he is ashamed to be a part of the human race because of how he sees the men act. Finally, he takes action when he sees what is happening to the Wilks family. He puts money into Peter’s coffin, and although that is progress in his initiation, he is still not doing what is completely right. He is choosing to help, yet indirectly. Instead, he could have given the money to one of the sisters, not put it in the coffin that might possibly never be found, or told the family that the Duke and the Dauphin were fakes. However, once he sees Mary Jane crying, he tells her the whole truth directly. This action is his biggest breakthrough in the novel so far. Although he could possibly get in a lot of trouble, he does what he believes is right regardless of the consequences.
Ultimately, because of Huck’s confession to Mary Jane, the Duke and the Dauphin sell Jim. At first, Huck figures that the only way to help Jim is to write a note to Miss Watson telling where Jim is. However, then he reconsiders what he is doing: he is giving into what the society would tell him to do, not want he wants to do. In spite of the society, the morals he has been taught, and the lessons he had heard growing up, he “says to myself: ‘All right, then, I’ll go to hell’ – and tore it up” (235). He decides to completely disregard everything and do what he personally believes is right. Now, finally, he has trusted his innate sense of right and wrong. Without second-guessing himself, he remarks, “It was awful thoughts, and awful words, but they was said; and never thought no more about reforming” (235). In the end, he is not struggling with his feelings. He knows them well, and is no longer confused.
Huck ends the novel with a lasting statement: “I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me and I can’t stand it. I been there before.” In this declaration, the audience finally sees Huck’s development as a character. He knows who he is and who he wants to be. Tired of the society and its influence, he is ready to live the rest of his life with his own standards and morals, taking tough decisions in his hands.